7 Common Behaviors at Holiday Parties That Are Actually Offensive
Don't bring flowers or clean up at the end of the evening, etiquette experts say.
With champagne flowing, mistletoe overhead, and scores of friends packed into a single room, it's easy to see how holiday parties are the backdrop for many a regretful next-day story. In fact, etiquette experts say that even when you think you're on your best behavior, you may still be causing a stir.
"The holiday season is a time of joy, celebration, and gathering with loved ones. It's also a time when social etiquette is put to the test," says Jules Hirst, founder of Etiquette Consulting. "While you may think you're being polite and well-mannered at holiday parties, there are some subtle behaviors that can actually be quite offensive to others."
Repeat after us: "Not this year!" Here's everything you need to know to avoid dampening the spirit at your next holiday event, according to etiquette experts.
Enjoying the festivities a little too much
Your party host undoubtedly wants you to enjoy yourself—but drinking too heavily can quickly kill the mood.
"While a glass of wine or a festive cocktail is perfectly acceptable, excessive drinking can lead to embarrassing behavior and awkward situations. Always drink responsibly and be mindful of your limits," says Hirst.
Jodi RR Smith, founder of Mannersmith Etiquette Consulting, adds that it's never appropriate to "pregame" for a holiday party by drinking before you arrive.
"Whether the holiday party is part of your personal or professional circle, you should not be arriving tipsy. It sends the message that you can only deal with the guests after you have had a drink or two," she explains.
Arriving on your own schedule
Smith says that most holiday parties differ from more casual events in that the host may expect you to arrive at a particular time.
"While it is fine to arrive fashionably late for a cocktail party or open house, it is not acceptable to arrive late for a seated dinner party. Know your timing," Smith says.
It can also place unnecessary strain on the host if they're not expecting you. "Arriving early to an event in order to help the host or hostess is inconsiderate as the hosts may not yet be dressed," explains Laura Windsor, founder of Laura Windsor Etiquette Academy. "They may also want to take a 10-minute breather after having finished last-minute preparations."
Bringing a plus one
Unless your host has explicitly stated "the more the merrier," you shouldn't assume as much. Bringing a plus one without asking may feel stressful to your host—especially if they've planned a meal or activity around a certain number of guests.
"It can ruin the chemistry of an evening, and disrupt the carefully orchestrated seating plan," notes Windsor.
"Unless your invitation specifically says you may bring a guest, you should not arrive with a plus one unannounced," agrees Smith. "If you are seriously dating someone and your hosts did not know, be sure to let them know in advance to see if they want to extend your invitation."
You should never arrive at a holiday party empty-handed, the experts all agree. However, Windsor says that if you want to give flowers, you should send them ahead of time rather than showing up with them on the evening of the event.
"Do not bring flowers to dinner. The host doesn't have time to tend to them," she explains.
Staying to help clean up
It may seem polite to stay late and help clean up after the party, but Smith says that unless you're especially close with the host, doing so usually means you've missed your exit cue.
"If the host is asking you to take the trash to the curb, you have overstayed your welcome. Note when the lights come up, the drinks are put away, and the music is turned off. Be sure to thank the host and say your goodbyes when the party is winding down," she advises.
Steering the conversation in the wrong direction—or not steering it at all
The experts say there are several ways you might kill the party vibe by dampening the conversation. Thinking ahead of time about topics of interest can help prepare you for a more meaningful exchange.
"Everyone, from elementary schoolers through grown adults, should have an interesting answer to the question, 'What's new?' Holiday parties are all about mixing and mingling. Answering 'nothing' is a complete conversation killer," says Smith. "Be sure to have something fun, interesting, novel, or unusual to share for party chit-chat."
However, Hirst adds that you should also be mindful of not dominating the conversation: "You might be passionate about your recent travels or career achievements, but monopolizing the conversation can make others feel left out. Bring others into the conversation by asking open-ended questions like, 'What have you been up to lately?'"
Leaving without saying goodbye
Some people argue that leaving a party without saying goodbye to your host saves everyone time and avoids distraction from the main event. However, Smith says this is a rude way to end the evening, and warns that it may even get your name removed from next year's invitation list.
"At the end of the evening don't forget to seek out your host and thank them for a lovely evening," she recommends.
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